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    Russian Premier League has most players at Euro 2008 semifinals

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    Although the majority of its teams are still largely unknown outside the former Soviet republics, the Russian Premier League will supply more players than any other national league for the upcoming Euro 2008 semifinals.

    MOSCOW, June 24 (RIA Novosti) - Although the majority of its teams are still largely unknown outside the former Soviet republics, the Russian Premier League will supply more players than any other national league for the upcoming Euro 2008 semifinals.

    Twenty-two of those players represent the Russian national side, which made the last four of the tournament with a stunning display against Holland on Saturday, beating the Dutch 3-1. The only Russian player to ply his trade abroad is Ivan Saenko, who plays for the German club Nurnberg.

    The 23rd Russian Premier League representative at Euro 2008 is Turkey's Gokdeniz Karadeniz, who currently plays for Russian league leaders Rubin, from the Republic of Tatarstan.

    The Bundesliga is in second place, with 21 representatives.

    Traditionally weak and much-maligned domestically, the Russian Premier League is experiencing something of a boom as energy companies and oligarchs pump vast amounts of money into teams. The most prominent example of the new wealth enjoyed by Russian clubs is Zenit St. Petersburg, who lifted the UEFA Cup in May. Zenit are financed by the energy giant Gazprom and their leading player, Andrey Arshavin, earns more than $3 million a year.

    "The Russian Premier League is developing into one of the most exciting and open in Europe," Marc Bennetts, British author of 'Football Dynamo,' a recent book about the modern Russian game, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

    "In the past, in the 1990s especially, the majority of players in Russia were desperate to sign for a foreign club," he said. "Now though, the sides can afford to pay their top players the kind of wages that mean they are unlikely to consider a move abroad unless it is to a leading side - like Barcelona or Manchester United, for example."

    Indeed, Barcelona are said to be lining up an offer for Arshavin, and a number of other Russian players are also thought to be on the shopping lists of leading European sides. Although the Russian Premier League may be about to lose some of its brightest stars, the current and planned investment in the game's grassroots will hopefully mean that new talent will emerge.

    Russia face Spain on Thursday in Vienna for a place in the Euro 2008 final. The first semifinal, between Germany and Turkey, takes place on Wednesday.

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